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The Birth of a Legend

Remains of Croat civilians are exhumed from a mass grave in Ovcara, near Vukovar in 1998


I met Siniše Glavašević only once in my life. This was in October 1990; I was taking part in a public reading in Vukovar, and  Glavaševićcame to interview me for the local radio station, after which we sat around and talked for a while. We did not discuss politics (no one in Vukovar ever discussed politics until the war), nor did we discuss how the situation would develop. We talked about literature, about how important it was that people write, about what people want to read.

Little did I know then that the man I was sitting with that night would, in under a year, become a legend. Within the last ten years, I have admonished myself on innumerable occasions for not having listened to him more attentively, for not having scrutinized his face and gestures more carefully, for not having asked him questions. I believe that his destiny, his future fate must have been self-evident in his eyes, in the tone of his voice, in the underlying meaning to the words he spoke even then. And I did not notice this at the time. This is why, since the fall of Vukovar, I have been ruminating over and have asked myself repeatedly what it is that makes Siniše Glavaševićdifferent and special among all the authors to bear witness to the war in Vukovar, what it is that has turned him into a symbol, what it is that causes so many people to feel a tightening in their throat and tears welling up in their eyes at the mention of his name. And this is what I have discovered.

First and foremost, Siniše Glavašević did what any writer should do: he guaranteed each text with his life. Not only because he knew that those about whose aggression he was reporting would kill him on sight if they managed to capture him (which they did), but also for other, far more important reasons. He was both a writer and a journalist. As a journalist, he reported on the war, on the siege of Vukovar. As a writer, he attempted to summarise what was happening to him during those days of war into short stories, that is, into a more general literary experience. And so he paid for the themes of his own stories, their gist, and their value with his own life, with the life he led in Vukovar in the autumn of 1991. Moreover, he told each story as if it were his last, because each of them really might have been his last. This is why he invested all his energy into each one, each spoke the truth and spoke it fully. Ultimately, by writing his stories, he somehow managed to deceive his own death: in providing quality to his texts, by striving to make them good, despite the war and despite Vukovar, Siniπa created something that will outlive him, and in this way he turned his own death— which is something he may have even hoped for — into an incidental fact, which cannot harm his work. In writing, he fulfilled his own destiny in life, which is why his texts are so tranquil, serene and composed.

And, this is another reason why he has become a legend. Because in some ways he was the personification of a man caught in the midst of a war, he epitomised all the people caught up in the midst of these events. These events are easy to remember: gunfire, sirens howling, missiles falling, everyone trying to go about their daily business as if nothing were happening. Somehow it seemed as if — were we to manage to finish off all those banal jobs and tasks (watering the flowers, taking out old paper, holding meetings, pickling paprikas for the winter, sending off letters) — then our daily lives would remain preserved, as these daily routines belonged to it, then our lives — which are made up of everyday tasks that need doing — would not vanish under falling bombs. And Siniše Glavašević, together with his colleagues at Radio Vukovar, perfected this attitude. They reported up until the very last second, and, in this way, kept themselves and others alive. Whilst doing so, it is not so important that Siniše Glavašević reported to us, who were not under siege. It was important that he informed the people of Vukovar, people who knew what was happening for themselves, but it was of vital importance for them to hear that the local radio station was still on the air, as it confirmed that they were still there, alive.

Reporting was also important to Siniπa and his colleagues; since as long as they were on the air, they were alive, they were carrying out their duties to life and their own fates. They could not act otherwise.  A live report on their own destruction was their contribution to modern journalism. Each of them, and perhaps Siniše Glavašević most of all, epitomises man at war.

But also man in general. This is, I believe, the third reason why Siniše Glavašević has become a legend. Because every man can identify with him, since he was an ordinary man faced by grave difficulties: just as he was faced with war, so others have been faced with illness, the death of a dear one, unhappy love.  Glavašević was the allegory of a man who carried the burden of his own fate, and a man who fought back with all the requisites at his disposal: plain and simple human love for plain and simple things. His reactions to the taunting of fate have a moral in them: when great misfortunes befall you, then you do not have great and mighty weapons to fight them, you must take what little you do have: your own sense of justice, your own common sense, your own feelings and emotions to get you through the day and help you to stay alive. And these feeble weapons — as the case of Glavašević proves — are actually the most efficient means of all; only they can help to conquer the worst of evils.

This victory, of course, does not ensure that he who resists evil, will survive, just as Siniπa did not survive. However, the living tools which served him and helped him fight remain, as do the values he advocated in his texts, and he would have also probably considered them to be most important: his commitment to his hometown, a simple, self-explanatory understanding of justice and truth contained within his stories, love for the world and life, which not even bombs can extinguish. By preserving the values that were so important to him, Glavašević could peacefully disappear.

And so, even if I did not take a good long look at him and listen attentively to him on the only occasion when I encountered him, perhaps everything is not lost: everything that is important — everything that Glavašević thought was truly important — has beenpreserved in what he said and wrote. It is, therefore, self-evident why he has become a legend.



Pavao Pavličić

Pavao Pavličić is a Croatian writer, literary historian and translator whose main focus are crime novels. He writes for both adults and children.





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